Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Light on violence | Paramilitary policing and the Jamaican inner-city youth

Published:Wednesday | February 1, 2017 | 2:00 AMHerbert Gayle
In Jamaica police work climate, policing style, and the treatment of the police and inner city youth by society contribute to a disastrous relationship between police and young men.
Part of the danger that police officers face rests in the structure and original purpose of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) that many in the society are slow to change.
In the late 1990s, the JCF started to make an obvious shift away from reactive, paramilitary responses to crime and disorder
In the late 1990s, the JCF started to make an obvious shift away from reactive, paramilitary responses to crime and disorder
In Jamaica police work climate, policing style, and the treatment of the police and inner city youth by society contribute to a disastrous relationship between police and young men.
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What must change

In the 2007 Forced Ripe Report (Gayle and Levy), young men in three different inner-city and working-class communities stated that the police could not protect them, when "in reality, they need protection from us". According to the young men, "The police can protect women and children, and middle-class people, but not us. Is a war thing between us."

In Jamaica, police work climate, policing style, and the treatment of the police and inner-city youth by society contribute to a disastrous relationship between police and young men. The situation is a recipe for civil war in which both the State and inner-city males suffer high casualties.

Policing is one of the most hazardous professions in the world. More than a half of all police deaths are usually accidental, with road fatalities, drowning, and burning ranking among the most frequent. Nonetheless, in the most violent countries, the majority of slain police officers are usually murdered, suggesting a difference in policing policy and process, as well as an aggressive youth attitude towards the police.

In New Zealand, one of the most peaceful countries in the world, only four police officers were killed by criminal acts between 2000 and 2011. This produces a police death rate by criminal acts of three per 100,000, compared to 150 per 100,000 for the same period for the Jamaican police. Over the same period, Jamaica's average homicide rate was 50 per 100,000; but 350 for inner-city young men (15-34 years) in the Greater Kingston area. This rate is almost twice the rate of deaths (205 per 100,000) in the Iraqi War and Occupation of 2003 to 2011. Not surprising, the police killed an average of 200 young men per year for this period - and on average, 13 officers were killed yearly.

EXTREME FEAR

Societies with homicide figures above the civil-war benchmark (30 per 100,000) such as Jamaica and South Africa have so much violence that policing is characterised by extreme fear. In such settings, an officer's preoccupation often shifts from that of protecting others to that of protecting himself.

In New Zealand, England and most other stable societies, the average police officer does not carry a gun on his person. In these countries, lethal weapons are carried concealed in service cars, or are carried by various special strike forces called upon in events of emergency or extreme violence. In countries such as Jamaica and South Africa, policing is done as if the countries are in a permanent state of emergency. Officers are armed with hand guns and sometimes assault rifles and are psychologically locked in a state of war-readiness.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force is dependent on deadly force

Part of the danger that police officers face rests in the structure and original purpose of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) that many in the society are slow to change. From the Victorian period to the present, the British used the police as the most visible symbol of colonial rule. The structure has been a blending of military and civilian roles into one police service. With the establishment of the Metropolitan Police in London in 1829 came a shift from military- to community-style policing as the primary way of dealing with social order. The many police forces formed in the colonies in the 19th century were not allowed to model the New Police in England.

In the late 1990s, the JCF started to make an obvious shift away from reactive, paramilitary responses to crime and disorder and began to openly embrace community-based policing. Nonetheless, there has not been enough of a culture shift within or outside the JCF to significantly reduce the dependence on deadly force.

Every country has a measured policing efficacy; and usually, this is by conviction and/or clear-up rates. In this article, we examine the relationship between the clear-up rate and murder rate between 1960 and 2007 for Jamaica. It is fair to expect a country to clear up at least 50 per cent of its murders. However, this is not always possible in certain unstable environments. The data allow us to make three conclusions that are comparable with trends in other high-violence Caribbean countries such as Trinidad and Belize.

First, there is an almost mirror-perfect inverse relationship between clear-up and murder rates - as murders increase in numbers, the capacity (especially if unchanged in tooling and operation) to clear up murders falls with comparable velocity.

STRUGGLE TO CLEAR UP MURDERS

Second, most security forces struggle to achieve even the base clear-up rate of 50 per cent once the murder rate exceeds the civil-war benchmark of 30 per 100,000. The dataset shows that just before Independence, the homicide rate was below five per 100,000, comparable with the world's average; and hence the country had a clear-up rate above 95 per cent. Independence usually comes with unrealistic demands from the populace and political struggles to seize leadership. Our transition was problematic; we quickly became segmentary factional - Comrades versus Labourites. Within 10 years of Independence, our murder rate jumped beyond 10 per 100,000 and the clear-up rate dropped dramatically below 70 per cent. Nonetheless, up until the political tribal war of 1976-1980, national security was able to achieve at least the minimum 50 per cent clear-up rate.

In 1976, Jamaica's homicide rate was 20 per 100,000 with a clear-up rate of 62 per cent. The following year, the homicide rate climbed slightly to 22 per 100,000 and the clear-up rate slipped to 52 per cent. In the middle year (1978), homicide stabilised somewhat at 21 per 100,000, and the clear-up rate climbed back correspondingly to 54 per cent.

The following year (1979) can be described as the calm before the storm. Homicide dropped to 19 per 100,000 as political activists and party-aligned gangs watched and planned for the upcoming election. Then came the 'War of 1980' in which over 800 Jamaicans murdered each other, resulting a homicide rate of 48 per 100,000. As we jumped across the civil-war benchmark, the clear-up rate took a dive to an embarrassing 37 per cent. The shock of our tribal war, and the absence of a competitive general election for a decade rescued our social sanity. However, by 1995, we had again crossed the civil war benchmark, and only for single exceptional years (1999 and 2003) have the clear-up rates exceeded 50 per cent.

POLITICS AND DRUGS

Third, homicide rates usually jump beyond 30 per 100,000 whenever there is structured mobilisation of inner-city youth. In the case of Jamaica, this implies politics and drug trafficking - and hence, both are to blame for the country's failure to achieve a clear-up rate of 50 per cent. Murders soared in the 1990s and peaked in 2005 at 64 per 100,000 because of the meticulously crafted symbiotic relationship that developed between politics and drug-trafficking gangs. The State then relies on paramilitary policing to address one side of the relationship - the combatant youth.

It is obvious that paramilitary policing is not effective in reducing violence in Jamaica; yet we do not have the climate or cultural acceptance for community policing. In fact, community policing in Jamaica has been quietly rejected as being feminine by many police officers and society on the whole. Many persons in community policing are given no public recognition as this is not seen as policing. Add the country's sharp social divisions to the fact that we accept policing to be paramilitary, and the problem becomes clear. Human beings often rationalise violence against those who are 'other'.

'CLASSIST' SOCIETY

There are many Jamaicans - from policymakers to middle class to rural folk to inner-city dwellers - who support the police and youth killing each other. We ascribe a value to the lives of both inner city youth and frontline police, both of whom are unfortunately from the underclass. We do not say it, but we know that the police come from the poorest homes. Jamaicans are extremely 'classist'. We treat the death of anyone from the merchant class as a catastrophe, but the death of a peasant with indifference.

The society has created what is known as structural violence against garrison youth and frontline police officers. None can expect to get justice or social support. The logic is therefore clear that they must, by design, kill each other. Again and again, year by year, the police will kill the youth, and they, too, will justify killing the police - and this feud between them will continue to maintain a political economy of violence in Jamaica. Police deaths (and the correspondent deaths of youth by the police) are tied to the degree of violence in the society - but even more important is the factor of acceptance by the society of the death of 'others', or those with whom we do not identify.

While we continue to encourage community or service-oriented policing, we, too, must begin the social change to reduce social exclusion.